What is it like to be an expat actor in Prague?
Local actor Curt Matthew says the Golden City offers native English speakers a golden opportunity
Surprisingly, Prague is a great place to be a part-time English-speaking actor. Live theater offers local expat actors a way to keep in practice, but is mostly done for fun. The real opportunities to make some money are in voice-overs, movies, video games and advertisements shot in Prague by foreign film and production companies.
One local actor, Curtis Matthew, told us what it is like to be based here. He grew up in South Dakota in the Unites States but has been in Prague since 1998.
According to him Prague is a very special place to be an actor. “I don’t know if I could do this anywhere else, in the States probably not, in UK probably not”, Curtis said.
Indeed, the number of English speaker actors is lower in Prague than in English-speaking countries so the the competition for roles is less intense. The opportunities to get a small speaking role in a Hollywood production are much bigger.
“If I were in the States or in Canada or anywhere else looking for theater or film work or commercial work, I would have to queue to get the job,” Curtis explained. Speaking English without an accent in Prague is an advantage for an actor. Rather than compete with thousands of struggling actors for a bit part, he really competes against a few dozen .
Here he doesn't have to present a showreel, a sort of visual resume, or do many of the other things that actors would do in Hollywood to get a small role. The process is much simpler as the casting agents here present producers with a much shorter list.
The great quality of film studios and other infrastructure in Prague and the low production costs attract a lot of directors and producers who decide to shoot here rather than in the States or Canada.
Prague has Barrandov Studios, which was built in 1931 and expanded several times since then. It can rival any facility in Hollywood. There is also Prague Studios, a newer facility built in a former MiG airplane factory.
Prague's historical locations, which are often used for period dramas, are also a big draw. The government now also offers incentives to filmmakers, bringing prices ever lower.
And while big names for starring roles will be brought in from the States or other countries, that doesn't make sense for the small support roles that fill every film.
To save costs on hotels and airline tickets for small roles, the producers turn to the local talent. The salaries offered are also a fraction of what an actor from the States would get, but it is good money for one or two days of work in Prague.
So that is where actors like Curtis come in. He has appeared on the big screen in the horror film The Omen 666 as a secret agent, in the fantasy film Narnia, Prince Caspian by Andrew Adamson as a faun and in the sci-fi film Babylon A.D. by Mathieu Kassovitz as a submarine captain, among other films.
His role in Narnia required extensive makeup, adding up to 26 hours in the chair over the course of the production. Hairs had to be added one at a time so it wouldn't look fake, he said.
He also has been in several commercials and even in a video game called Dex.
Concerning theater, he works with different English-language groups such as the Bear Educational Theatre, Blood, Love and Rhetoric and in projects at DAMU, the Theater Faculty of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague.
While in the US, an actor is used to acting in one production at a time, being an actor in Prague leads to more diversity. “In May, I will be preforming in five different plays,” Curtis said.
Currently, he appears in new English-language productions of The Conquest of North Pole and the Stand-In, two famous Czech comedy plays by the fictitious author Jara Cimrman, as well as in Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida, staged in cooperation with Prague Shakespeare Company.
He also sometimes appears in Improv with Blood, Love and Rhetoric at Malostranska Beseda.
If he prefers the freedom of theater, he also appreciates the security of cinema where the magical “cut” can save you from an awkward situation if you have forgotten your lines.
At 65 years of age, Curtis Matthew doesn’t feel type cast even if he is often asked to play older men. He says he still feels like a teenager and is able to play any kind of character.
In several plays he appears in drag, and says he is good at it because he is not concerned with his protecting a particular reputation or image. He gets behind the role, whatever it is.
Prague wasn't the first stop for Curtis when he left the States. He traveled in Japan for a while, and then Turkey, India, and Thailand before finally coming to Prague in 1998. He also teaches English when he isn't acting.
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